Thanks everyone for your comments and supportive messages after last week’s post. I think that it was a perfect storm of a quieter work week ahead of spending the most money we have on anything here in France (besides the house itself bien sur!).
I have held off posting this week so that I could include the before and after pictures of our tree felling escapades over the last 48 hours. The whole event was preceded by a bit of a sleepless night for me as I was nervous that the trees wouldn’t come out without damaging the electrical cable which ran directly through the middle of one of the conifers, as well as two others which were touching the phone cables of all of our neighbours’, and I was keen not to fall out of favour with everyone within the first few months of being here!
As a side note, we have already been here in France for almost six whole months – so for those of you who have been following me since we got here – and there are even some of you who will have been following our escape from the UK from the planning stages of last summer (!!) – that’s the fastest six months of our lives that I have ever known! As we were wheelbarrowing wood up to the top of our garden yesterday evening I took the moment to lie down on the grass and reflect on all that had passed.
From selling our UK home, living in a gite, buying this place and making it habitable, we have come so so so far, and yet still have so much to do. However, I have a feeling that’s a theme that I’ll be coming back to frequently!
So for now, we can bask in the glory of this week’s big win. And our new, phenomenal view. What do you think?
Today is a bit of a pensive post, and that’s the sort of mood I’m in at the moment. It’s not a typical upbeat canter through a brocante so if you’re looking for that, I apologise – but today I’m going to talk about how I feel five months into living here.
Firstly, I feel very lucky to live here in France. I have realised an ambition that I held for most of my life. That’s a really great feeling – but a less great feeling is that around not having any money.
Secondly, let me be clear, I am not truly poor. I recognise that I am very privileged, I own my own home here. I have no mortgage. I have a small amount of savings in the bank. I have no debts. I work. Believe me when I say that I wasn’t always in this fortunate position.
And I would have none of those things without more than a decade of riding the ridiculous rollercoaster that was working for my old corporate employer, being sent to offices all around the UK – wherever they deemed fit – and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the roles they put me into. And I work now, as a self-employed person, as a micro-entrepreneur. The very nature of this work is that the income is up and down.
But right now, here in France, on this grey Thursday afternoon as my partner unloads our new lawnmower from the car, I feel poor. And by poor I mean, I worry about money. I worry about it all the time, it’s probably been the most important thing in the world to me. Not because I am greedy, or need it to feel important. Quite the opposite.
Spending considerable periods of my life without enough money have created within me a sort of radar for financial struggle. It has moulded me into a person who is financially anxious. As a therapist I know how to work with anxiety, I know the tools I’ve learned as a professional and an individual to use to keep myself in a good place and to communicate honestly and openly about financial issues with my partner.
But there is still the low omnipresent hum of watching the pennies (or more accurately now, centimes). I imagine that will be there for all of my life. It’s not debilitating, it’s not sadenning, it doesn’t impact how I feel about myself (too often anyway). But it is there, and it is learned. It is a learned response to escaping poverty. Of never, ever wanting to go back there. It’s the drive for much of what I do and the way that I behave (in the wider scheme of things, i.e. it contributes to me being a driven person, solution and goal focused) and it is something that I notice doesn’t exist in other people.
If you’ve ever been poor, I mean really poor. Not just unable to book a nice holiday, but using a credit card to buy food poor, I sympathise. I’ve been there. It changes you as a person – I think it can’t help but change you. It’s the whole reason that I created Frugal France in the first place because I knew that once we moved here that money would be tight. I knew I was volunteering to be less fiscally comfortable than I had been in the UK.
So I suppose the point of this post is not to bemoan that decision but to acknowledge it. That for all of the lovely pictures that I and my peers post about our lovely lives here, the images of blossom on trees and lambs in fields, that isn’t and never could be the full story. That for many of us, money is a big thing to consider, and that living here in France is not cheap. Especially when many of us have downsized our belongings and arrive needing to buy tools, renovation materials or new cars.
So I’d love to know what your tips are for living really frugally – do let me know in the comments.
I’m sitting in the garden as I write this post. It’s 22 degrees in April and I’m sipping a rum and coke while listening to birds singing. I’ve just been and collected wood from the woodshed, though it’s unlikely we’ll need a fire tonight. And much like the content of my posts on Instagram earlier this week, I’m feeling really content.
I’m not retired, I do work. And as much as I love my job it is work, and I try my hardest to do it well. The years of coasting in my IT career are behind me, and as my own boss I work harder for myself than I ever have before.
But that’s okay, because I choose it.
Im sitting here thinking about what it is that France gives me that has made it so easy for me to find contentment after only four months as a French resident. Part of it is no doubt the beautiful countryside and lovely weather, even in spring. But I think actually it’s the more subtle differences that are impactful – like the fact that every person I meet beyond the threshold of my front door says “bonjour” to me. That neighbours have been so welcoming and polite – stopping to speak or doing favours instead of avoiding eye contact on the front drive or worse – and this happened in Bristol SO much – totally ignoring us even when we said hello. I feel valued here. Even by strangers. I don’t think I have felt that before, which is a terribly sad thing to think when I have lived all over the south of the UK in cities, towns and village settings. Maybe I should have been in the north.
My friend visiting last week asked “Is it enough?” referring to our very rural, quiet lifestyle. And I can honestly say, yes it is. I get to spend time with the person that I love every day. We get to eat meals together – something I was never able to do with our conflicting work schedules in Bristol – we have every weekend off. We don’t aspire to spending 24/7 with each other, but it’s nice to have the choice. I get to speak French everyday, something which I have longed to do always. I get to drive on quiet roads, listen to my music really loud. I get to host new friends for dinner and drinks, I get to spend time in my garden and eat outdoors almost every day at the moment. I have my work which gives me purpose and I no longer have a life that I need holidays to escape from.
I really love my life now. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But it’s good enough, and I’ll take that.
Last night I was stood in the kitchen at 1am, looking out of our long windows across the valley opposite.
I am a total night-owl with longings to be a morning person, but it’s just not happening and I’m accepting that. The upside of this predisposition towards bed-avoidance means that I get to enjoy the amazingly bright starry nights here in deepest rural France. Walking the roads around here after midnight (and I would argue before midnight on occasion!) unquestionably need a torch – but the skies are often bright with constellations that I had only once seen in the UK, on a holiday to the Isle of Wight where light pollution was minimal.
Here, we have very little by way of light pollution or any pollution whatsoever that I can discern. A friend visited this week from London and we remarked on the clean-smelling air and how refreshing it was. Considering we used to live on an A-road in Bristol, and prior to that Zone 1 in London, we know a thing or two about air pollution.
Our own contribution to the demise of the ozone layer was taken out of action this week where our village mechanic deemed our car too dangerous to be driven, and so we and our friend were confined to the house for a few days. My friend was poorly, so we kept her dosed up on cold medicine, cheese and a little wine to help her through the worst of it – and the interactions with the garagiste have not been all bad. In fact, he is a very nice and accommodating young man, but just as importantly he has given my partner the opportunity to test his French on a subject we don’t often learn much about in class (yet!). G managed to book our car in to be inspected, chase up a part and book us in for repair tomorrow morning… all in very comprehendible French! This is a bit of a pivotal moment for him, as while his grammar and vocabulary are excellent, he describes listening to be difficult so conversation is understandably anxiety-inducing.
I am different, in that I love listening to French, and talking (I’m so sorry to my classmates, I really don’t shut up) but my French teacher does hold me up as someone who seems to be able to understand spoken French well, but who struggles with the fundamentals of grammar. I have to agree, however this week we have been looking at our various tenses again, and I’m hoping that by Monday not only will I be more confident in my ability to speak in complex tenses, but also that our car won’t kill us.
Anyway, a busy, unusual few days, but it’s back the usual gardening and house renovation next week, à bientôt!
I know that my Instagram feed is often full of the usual things that one might expect to be doing when living in France, but today I’m thinking of my own personal top five:
1 Eating bread and bread-based foods (seriously, carbs are life)
2 Speaking French (yes, bread even comes before this, I am addicted)
3 Drinking lovely wine for like, a euro
4 Eating all the flipping cheese in my department
5 French architecture
In my old UK-resident-francophile-from-afar life these were truly the ways that I thought that life in France would be. That I’d be wandering through flower-lined streets of typically French houses with gorgeous shutters and lavender EVERYWHERE. And I am. It’s a joy.
But I would also add five realities about living in France for the uninitiated:
1 Winter is COLD. The days may be sunny, even warm, but if there aren’t any clouds you best have some wood for a fire that night. 2 Admin is a full-time job, particularly in these interesting times of Brexit. Have lots of printer ink. 3 Food isn’t cheap. Eating fresh and seasonally will be the most frugal way to go. Or grow vegetables, as I am planning to do. 4 Housing is cheap, but purchasing a home here is different, bien sûr! In my opinion its more organised and formal, but you’ll pay for that. 5 It would be really easy to live here and almost not speak a word of French, but for me, that would negate any reason to live here whatsoever.
I often get asked things like “how much does it cost to run a two-bed house in France?” or “Can you help me to decide if this house is right for me?”. Both questions that tap into both my frugal self, and opinionated self. But I have to take a step back from that and remind those people that living here, in whatever way you choose to live, is a deeply personal experience.
Things still cost money here. Sometimes a lot, sometimes less. It depends enormously upon our living habits and how we make ourselves happy. For me, I am (clearly) pretty happy as long as there is bread, wine and cheese. I also need some nature and see wildlife, a garden to grow things and the opportunity to speak to French people. And while I LOVE our French home and everything that we are doing to renovate it, it is not the most important thing to me. Spending time with my partnet, lovely people in the village, making friends, learning a new culture and integrating as much as I possibly can are my priorities. If that means the kitchen isn’t painted until next year I can live with that.
I suppose what I’m saying is, if you want to move to France, I would examine what it is that you value. If you need to be in a place where you have all the amenities available to you at all times, then rural France is not for you. If you can’t cope with the idea that shops close for lunch, or that you have very little power when it comes to bureaucracy (cue gallic shrug) then this isn’t the place. BUT if you are willing to learn, integrate and try, can be okay with accepting that things won’t always be quick, or perfect, or cheap (!) then it might well be!
As always, if anyone wants to ask questions you are so welcome, I love interacting with my followers – but it’s just that the big questions can only be answered by you. And that’s how it should be.